Homily – Chrism Mass 2018

Isaiah 61:1-3a; 6a; 8b-9, Apocalypse 1:5-8, Luke 4:16-21

The Church with Wounds

Welcome to our Chrism Mass for 2018. It is a beautiful and ancient liturgical treasure of our Christian tradition.

We come together as the presbyterate of the Diocese with the Bishop as the living sign of our communion in Jesus, the Great High Priest and Victim. Or, as in the second reading, Jesus is described as “the Alpha and the Omega, the Lord who is and was and who is to come, the Almighty”.

During this Mass we come to bless the sacred oils to be used by the Bishop, priests and deacons in their ministry of teaching, sanctifying and governing God’s people.

Of course, the context of this ancient liturgical rite differs from age to age and country to country, with all its challenges and trials. Regardless of context, our faith knows that the Lord’s words remain forever true. These words are emblazoned forever in today’s Gospel from Luke, that, “the Spirt of the Lord … that brings good news to the poor … is fulfilled even as you listen”.

Let us now consider a little more closely the particular context in Australia today whereby this proclamation of the Lord’s Year of Favour is announced.

Over recent years I requested that one of the parish priests of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, Fr Joe Tran PP of Narooma/Cobargo, use his great talent in painting two large paintings to be placed in the atrium of our new Pastoral Centre in Canberra. The first one was the loaves and fishes, symbol of the Eucharist.

The second one was a painting to reflect Luke 5 where Jesus asks his disciples to put out their nets into the deep for a catch.

This second painting has just been completed. It is a beautiful painting but it does raise a question in my mind. Regrettably, Fr Tran is overseas on sabbatical so I will have to wait for his answer for a few more months yet.

The curious element about this is that he has the men hauling in huge quantities of large fish as they fish in very rough seas.

I don’t recall reading Luke 5 and hearing that the seas that they were fishing in were rough. Why has he put rough seas?

I can make my own observation on this matter.

The Church in Australia today is obeying the Lord’s command to fish for souls in the rough seas that it now finds itself today in our cultural context.

We all know that the Royal Commission into Sex Abuse has had a tsunami effect on people’s faith and continues to do so. We are also aware of the marginalisation of religious belief in Australian culture over the decades and particularly the battle ground of marriage and family in today’s Australian life.

All of these rough seas make it important for us to be very open to the call to gather together in 2020/2021 for the Plenary Council of Australia and begin preparation for that very soon.

The Church in Australia today is a bit like a Rembrandt painting. There’s much light but there’s also much darkness. There’s the great lightness of faith-filled people who continue to give incredible witness of their love for God in their parish communities in the way they serve the poor and the marginalised. But in the areas I have just indicated, there is also much darkness of selfishness, sin and the diabolical. It is into the midst of this Chiroscuro that the Church continues to evangelise with hope and great joy.

And so now the rough seas and the wounded-ness of the Australian Church today meets the Holy Week of 2018.

The wounds, the death of Jesus (Good Friday), all this will give way to the Resurrected Wounds of the Risen Lord Jesus on Easter Sunday and our union in this saving encounter.

It seems to be beautifully summarised in an important phrase that comes from both the New Testament and the Old that “Through His wounds we are healed”. Therefore, our faith challenge today being missionaries in this strange new context we find ourselves in in Australia, is to allow the Redeemed Wounds of the Easter Jesus to heal us in our present-day wounds.

For this to happen, two aspects at least must be kept in creative tension.

Firstly we need to keep the vision of the wound of Christ fully in our attention, both heart and mind.

I am reminded of the famous story pertaining to St Teresa of Avila, the medieval Spanish Carmelite mystic (1515-1582) when one day the devil appeared to her.

When the devil appeared to her he was disguised as Jesus. But St Teresa of Avila wasn’t fooled one moment and dismissed the devil immediately.

On the way out, the devil asked her, “How could you be so sure I wasn’t Jesus?”

St Teresa’s answer is forever valid, “You didn’t have wounds. Christ has wounds”.

Secondly, any reflection on the wound of Christ is also a reflection on the wounded Church.

We are the body of Christ, that is, we are the Wounded Body of Christ.

Let us not be ashamed or run away from our wounds, but in profound humility and conversion, place our wounds into the Redeemed Wounds of Jesus, just like St Thomas did.

In recent days I’ve come across some beautiful words of Pope Francis when he spoke to the priests in the Cathedral at Santiago, Chile on Tuesday the 16th of January 2018 on a pastoral visit to this land.

I wish to quote him at some length.

He said, “Jesus Christ does not appear to His disciples without His wounds; those very wounds enabled Thomas to profess his faith. We are not asked to ignore or hide our wounds. A Church with wounds can understand the wounds of today’s world and make them her own, suffering with them, accompanying them and seeking to heal them. A wounded Church does not make herself the centre of things, does not believe that she is perfect, but puts at the centre the one who can heal those wounds, whose name is Jesus Christ.

The knowledge that we are wounded sets us free. Yes it sets us free from becoming self-referential and thinking ourselves superior… In Jesus our wounds are risen…. The frank, sorrowful and prayerful recognition of our limitations, far from distancing us from our Lord, enables us to return to Jesus in the knowledge that with this newness he is always able to renew our lives and our communities, and even if the Christian message has known periods of darkness and ecclesial weakness, it will never grow old… Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and recover the original freshness from the Gospel, new avenues arise. New paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s word. How good it is for all of us to let Jesus renew our hearts.

What sort of Church is it that you love? Do you love this wounded Church that encounters life in the wounds of Jesus?”

So dear brothers and sisters, on this beautiful Chrism Mass, let us love our wounded Church that encounters the Redeemed Wound of our Redeemer and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Let the recommitment of our own priestly vows now renew our faith and courage, our hope and joy.

Let the oils we bless heal and sooth and redeem the wounds of our people.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn
Apostolic Administrator for Wagga Wagga Diocese